Lawrence Fire Chief Murphy Says He is Being Targeted


Valley Patriot Exclusive!

Lawrence Fire Chief Murphy with Michele McPhee

By: Tom Duggan – July, 2010

Lawrence Mayor Willie Lantigua is targeting Fire Chief Brian Murphy after the chief publicly opposed the mayor’s efforts to layoff more than two dozen firefighters and close two more fire stations, the chief told the Valley Patriot.

Since Chief Murphy appeared before the city council opposing Mayor Lantigua’s fervent efforts to layoff firefighters, the mayor has announced that he wants to remove the chief’s job from Civil Service protection.

Civil Service is an agency that protects public employees from political retribution. If Lantigua succeeds in removing the chieffrom civil service protection, he can remove the chief at-will and hire anyone he wants (even a ’s position non-firefighter) to lead the Lawrence Fire Department.

When Chief Murphy was asked by the Valley Patriot if he thought the mayor’s efforts to take his job out of Civil Service protection was a personal attack, Murphy said he does. 

“I believe that’s what it was. Initially the Mayor indicated… or his Chief of Staff indicated that we wants to take the chiefcivil service process. That’s the process where we take exams and go on a list for hiring and ’s job out of the promotions, the process is supposed to be fair and take the politics out of it.

So, I signed that list for Chief and shortly after I started speaking out about these layoffs, I learned that the mayor proposed to take it out of Civil Service. Nobody had actually let me know that was going on. I had to hear about it from someone else, so yeah, I think itpersonal. I think it is because I’ve been outspoken on what these cuts have ’s meant for the city as far as devastating the fire protection in the city. I think that’s part of it, and I think that it’s unfortunate. This department is already understaffed with the cuts from last year and now we are talking about a serious risk of life and property with any additional layoffs,” the chief concluded.

Members of the Lantigua “team” have also said that, not only do they want to take the fire chief’s job out of civil service, they are looking to eliminate all of the officials in the fire department. If Mayor Lantigua and his city council decide to eliminate superior officers, all the sergeants, lieutenants, captains, etc, could be demoted to the rank of firefighter.

 “There was a proposal from the Budget and Finance Committee,” Chief Murphy said. “They are going to recommend that [demoting all officials] to the city council, that is my understanding. I have not been involved in any communications on that, in fact I really havenbeen in on any of the communications on anything. I certainly would hope that the chief ’t would be involved in any attempt to re-structure the fire department. I would hope that those decisions wouldn’t be made without talking to the fire chief. But I donour structure of how we have run this department ’t know. Right now, has worked very well for more than 100 years. Our department is very efficient. The problem we have now is we simply do not have the manpower and we have no say at all in the decision making.”

The Lawrence Fire Department suffered devastating layoffs last year when Mayor Sullivan cut the fire department’s budget due to a $10 MIL cut in state aid by Governor Deval Patrick. Sullivan left it up to whom he called “the experts” as to what cuts to make in their respective departments when Governor Patrick cut local aid from Lawrence’s budget.

 “I have always believed that as mayor, you are a politician. You’re not an expert at anything except getting more votes than someone else,” former Mayor Mike Sullivan said.

“The guys who work in the fire department or the DPW or the police department…they are the experts. They know far better than any elected official does, what kind of impact that layoffs like this will have on the city.”

“How the process is supposed to work is, the mayor cuts the bottom line of the fire department’s budget, say, by a million dollars. Then you leave it to the chief and the officials over there to figure out if they can make cuts without having to lay anyone off. Chief Murphyright, Lantigua is not a fire expert, he isn’t a police expert. He doesn’t do their ’s job every day and he shouldnfrom city hall. I never laid off one city worker without getting ’t be making those decisions input from the department heads and giving them the chance to avoid that by cutting somewhere else in their budget. What Lantigua is doing now is just reckless and irresponsible. He is slashing and burning public safety in the city with no regard for peoplepublic safety ’s lives or the impact his political decisions will have on the moral of our dedicated officials.”

City Councilors like Frank Moran have confronted Murphy at public meetings, challenging his years of expertise and his assertion that the city cannot operate safely with another round of layoffs. At times, Murphy and Moran as well as Councilor Dan Rivera exchanged words over Murphy’s formula for staffing requirements on the department.

At times, councilors who are open allies of Mayor Lantigua hinted that they had statistics and formulas that disputed the chiefminimum staffing requirements.

“I am not sure they have those formulas,” Murphy told the Valley Patriot. “The formula that I was using was based on the same formula that the Police Chief Romero was asked to present as to how many police officers he needed based on his experience.

He gave the city council the number he said was needed to maintain public safety and that was just fine with them. They accepted his word no problem. Then they asked me how many fire fighters I needed. I said, based on my years of experience these are the numbers …and they did not like that. That wasn’t good enough.

Based on 30 years of experience, myself and four deputy chiefs have determined that we need a minimum of 24 firefighters per shift. That’s not a luxury that is the minimum we need to get by. That’s five engine companies, two ladder companies and a rescue.

That means Engine 6, and both stations opened and that’s what we’ve dermined is the minimal level. That doesn’t give us any extra, thatthe minimum to get by. There is no way, no matter how you work the math, that anyone’s numbers ’s are going to come out any less than that.

Right now, that is actually going to be the lowest level in the state. Right now [before the last round of layoffs] we are below the lowest level in the state for the community size. If we go to the projected overseer’s budget of 13 to 17 firefighters [per shift], that is going to be the equivalent of a city with less than 40,000 people … and Lawrence has at least 80,000 people. So we would be expected to run an entire department with the number of firefighters that a community with 40,000 people would have. It just isn’t acceptable.”

Mayor Lantigua laid off 23 firefighters on July 6th.

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